Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Dangers of extended patrols to be reviewed

Military commanders are being asked to review plans to extend patrols from Bamiyan to neighbouring Baghlan province. Photo / Thinkstock
Military commanders are being asked to review plans to extend patrols from Bamiyan to neighbouring Baghlan province. Photo / Thinkstock

Military commanders are being asked to review plans to extend patrols from Bamiyan to neighbouring Baghlan province after the latest deaths of New Zealanders in Afghanistan.

Insurgents who have killed five New Zealand soldiers in the past two weeks are thought to be based in Baghlan, next to Bamiyan province where the 145 Kiwis are.

Two weeks ago the Cabinet authorised patrols into Baghlan, after being requested to do so by the Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government was having discussions with General Jones "and asking him to give us a view on whether that is actually the best path ahead".

Asked if the Cabinet was more reluctant now to extend patrols than it was two weeks ago, he said: "I would say that with the tragic loss of three people in the last week we would want reassurance that we are on the right track ."

The Government wanted to get a clear understanding of the risks defence personnel would be facing between now and next April, when withdrawal is likely, "and what are the implications of wider patrolling versus other options".

A Defence Force spokeswoman said last night that it was business as usual in the New Zealand bases in Bamiyan.

"We can confirm that NZDF personnel are going about their business as usual in Bamiyan, undertaking patrols as required. They still have a job todo."

She said the rules of engagement had not changed "and are sufficient".

Speaker Lockwood Smith refused a request by the Green Party for a snap debate on Government decisions about the deployment.

Mana leader Hone Harawira said while he was not questioning the sacrifice the fallen had made, it was the right time to question why they had died "and whether or not there was anything we could have done to stop them dying".

He questioned why the SAS had been withdrawn "at a time when their support is most desperately required by our own troops on the ground", and said the Government had two choices: an immediate enhancement of security for those on the ground or immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Prime Minister John Key made it clear that an immediate withdrawal would not happen, saying on Monday that a likely withdrawal in April was the fastest they could go.

The timing hinges on Japan's plan to upgrade the Bamiyan airport and its plans to put a tunnel under the runway.

New Zealand's equipment needed to be moved by Hercules aircraft which would be too heavy to operate in Bamiyan after the work.

Japan cannot shift its start date from May.

The bodies of the three soldiers, Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, and Private Richard Harris are expected to arrive in Christchurch tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Mr Key would not offer a view on criticism by Corporal Tamatea on a Facebook page of his decision to watch his son play representative baseball in the United States rather than attend the funerals of Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Malone.

"I have huge respect for [Corporal Tamatea]," Mr Key said. "He paidthe ultimate price in defence of his country and he has my utmost respect."

- NZ Herald

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